Sunday, October 25, 2009

Best Practices of our Faith: Evangelism

Acts 17:16-34 “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,"--because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean." (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD ' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

Salvation, or The Gospel, or the Good News is this:
Admit you are a sinner  Romans 3:23
Believe that Jesus died for your sins John 3:16
Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, or Leader and Forgiver Romans 10:9-10

Peter sums it all up in the story of Jesus in Acts 2:14-36, 38. You can talk also about Steps to Peace With God, the 4 Spiritual Laws, or the Roman Road which looks at several verses through Romans to define the process of salvation. Next week we will talk about what happens at salvation. We acknowledge that salvation is a process, but it is also an event, when an ultimate decision is made.
For those who personally experienced salvation in time gone by the call is to Holiness; but Salvation when viewed in 2nd or 3rd person is evangelism. The Truth is, people need to hear the story of Jesus. How do they hear this wonderful story? The buzz is out that people who don’t know that story won’t come to an event to hear it. The church is not able to attract people like they used to, and if all our evangelistic efforts are based solely on an attractional model, we just won’t see much happening. If the people won’t come to us, we need to go to the people. The Emergent church emphasizes this, that to impact the world we have to go live in the world. We have to be the light in a dark place. This is not new. I grew up in a church that believed and taught this. Yes, we did events, but we also were challenged to take our faith with us everywhere we go.
Evangelism used to start with asking two questions. James Kennedy in Evangelism Explosion called them the 2 diagnostic questions because the answer people give you enlightens you to where they are at spiritually.
1. If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?
2. If you were to die tonight and were asked at the gates of heaven, “Why should you be let in?” what would you say?
These are great questions and I still use them. Evangelism used to start there, and in a Christian culture people understood them even if they were far from God. Today we don’t live in a Christian culture. Many non-Christians have little of the childhood Sunday School that you and I had. Immigration adds more and more people to the mix, and they bring other religions and cultures. How do you and I share the Gospel with them? What has to happen now more than ever in that pre-salvation place people are in? Let me share 2 thoughts with you.

Love - You, more than ever before, have to live a life of love before your neighbours, unsaved family and friends, and strangers. This cannot just be an act; it has to be authentic. You have to love your neighbour as yourself - now where have I heard that challenge before?
You have to invest time and energy into those relationships. If you spend all that time with Christians you will never lead someone to Jesus. Take advantage outreach events like the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast and the Blades Family Faith Night; but those things should be just part of an ongoing dialogue about spiritual things. You earn the right to have that discussion when you live a life of putting others first (read “love”) because you surrendered your own life to Jesus . You are being transformed yourself by the renewing of your mind and heart by the work of the Holy Spirit in you. You are becoming more like Jesus in holiness which expresses itself as love.
Your neighbour hears you gossiping about someone; and what have you just done for the credibility of your faith and witness? You take advantage of someone and as you brag about it you are pushing that non-Christian even further away from Jesus. You keep the same vices and addictions as non-Christians and so they believe God is powerless to change. Perhaps we ourselves have come to believe that - a form of godliness but without the power. We don’t have to be perfect, but if you are constantly extending love rather than judgement, grace rather than self-righteousness, friendship rather than control, people will begin to understand the love and grace of God. They will begin to ask questions about why you are different. Are you different because Jesus is in your life? Is that increasing Christ-likeness happening in your life?

Authenticity - You have to be real and authentic. People aren’t as concerned about how good you are as they are about how real you are. Who wants a bleached out sanitized and sterilized life? Yet that is what we often pursue as the church, thinking perfection is what it is all about. In pursuing that we become institutional because we are pursuing the Law. The Law sucks the life out of our faith experience. It quenches new believers enthusiasm and causes the older saints to revert to a judging position rather than a vital discipling position. We are pursuing Jesus. We are meeting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. And one great truth about God is He accepts us as we are. Again and again we see Jesus approach and accept people where they were at - and in doing so was able to transform their life.
Zacheus was a thief disguised as a tax collector. Jesus had lunch with him and Zach responded to the truth of Jesus by repaying 4 times the amount he had stolen from people as restitution. The adulteress stood alone before Jesus with no accusers, and Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” The Samaritan women was given the Living Water and she told the whole town about Jesus. The list goes on, but the principle is to be real in your faith. We want people to experience salvation because we know how important it is. Most of the people don’t know how important, so they aren’t going to listen to us unless we truly love them as people. You can’t fake love. You can’t do love out of ulterior motives, out of an agenda. People know and they don’t respond if all you are is a salesman. We are ambassadors - we have a message to share. Be real as you do that. I want to leave you with 2 practical things you can do today. Love and authenticity are lifelong pursuits. They are changes that happen over time.

Pray - Today you can pray. Everyone can pray. Make that list of 5 or 10 people who need the Lord and keep it near you day to day. Pray for those people often, that God would draw them to Himself. Pray for opportunities for yourself or other Christians in their life to be used to share the Good News. Pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into the fields which are white and ready for a spiritual harvest.

Initiate spiritual conversations - Lastly, we need to be able to talk to people about spiritual things. Even though we don’t start with those 2 diagnostic questions, we can start with spiritual things. The program is one tool that the BGEA is offering us as a church. They are showing 3 commercials on TV programs over the month of November. Your neighbours are likely going to see them. The grocery clerks will, as will the people in your family. They are short, funny, and have a memorable hook line: “I got a guy for that!” “I can hook you up!” “I know someone”. We are going to give you some cards with soul chat on them as well as our church information. Those commercials are going to send people to the website where they will have an opportunity to read articles and videos and connect to a local church like us to get questions answered. We don’t have to wait for that phone to ring, though. You can hand one of those people near us a card and ask, “Have you seen the commercials? What did you think?” As you listen and respond, what a perfect opportunity to ask them about spiritual things without any threat. You have a common place to come from. We can do an event at the end of November where you could invite them to come for a discussion
Here are some other questions you can ask:
Have you read much of Jesus’ teachings?
What would you say is the most foundational thing in life?
Do you have spiritual beliefs?
Who is a spiritual person you admire?
Do you know who Jesus is?
What are your spiritual questions?
If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
I don’t believe in a God like that either. Let me tell you what I believe.
Have you ever gone to church?

The Great Commission is not just a Great Suggestion!  Start with prayer, and go from there. Let God lead. He has promised to provide the words when you need them; but what you need the most is just your story of what God, what Jesus has done in your life. Maybe you realize He hasn’t done much yet. If that is the case surrender yourself to Him and let Him continue that marvellous work in your life that He started so long ago. Today is the day of salvation. What are you doing with Jesus today?

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